I often read posts on the Internet of how people have fallen victim to "cheap airfare" scams. This mostly applies to international air travel. I am not talking about those that searched for cheap airfare, found a good deal and when they tried to book it that fare was no longer available. Many times these are not scams but they are often the result of the dynamics of airline pricing. I am more talking about people that paid money and then either did not get a ticket or got a ticket but did not have a confirmed reservation. Having a ticket DOES NOT mean you have a confirmed reservation. Here are some basic steps that you can take to protect yourself.
1. Use Common Sense
If a deal is too good to be true then, well it probably ain't. If you get a quote from one source that beats all of the other sources you have checked by 30% or more then be extra careful. I am not saying stay away but definitely investigate further. Ask questions like:
- What airline will I be flying on?
- Will this be a CONFIRMED reservation or will this be a "on request" reservation?
- What class of service will I be booked in (this is not economy or coach)? This is a letter designation such as U, T, Z...
- What is the fare basis code? This is a serious of letter and numbers such AP21NR or similar.
Once you have this information call a competitor (not the airline), give them the travel dates, and ask them if they can book you into the class of service using that fare basis code. If they can not explain that their competitor claims that they can. See what they say.
2. Check for Credentials
Almost all reputable sellers of travel are members of one or more of the following organizations.
ASTA - American Society of Travel Agents
USTOA - United States Tour Operators Association
IATAN - International Airline Travel Agency Network
BBB - Better Business Bureau
These organizations do a pretty good job vetting their members for scammers but it is no guarantee.
3. Pay by Credit Card only
This is the most important form of protection. If you decide to go for it then pay by credit card only. If the seller refuses credit cards or tries to entice you to pay by another form of payment then STAY AWAY. Reputable sellers will always accept credit cards for payment. The reason you want to pay by credit card is that if you have become the victim of a scam or fraud then you can simply dispute the charge stating that you have become the victim of a scam. The credit card will not make you pay for it. So, at least you will not be out of a chunk of change.
4. Check the Status of your Ticket and Reservation
Once you receive your ticket (or e-mail e-ticket confirmation) do the following:
If you received a paper ticket check the status box for either HK or OK code. If you see any other code call the airline and inquire what it means. If they state that you are not holding a confirmed reservation, call the seller and demand an explanation. Tell him/her that you were under the impression that you had bought a confirmed reservation and that if they can not get you a confirmed reservation within 24 hrs that you will call the credit card company and dispute the charge.
If you have received an e-mail with an e-ticket confirmation, call the airline and make sure that the reservation actually exists and that the seats are confirmed. A good way to do this is by simply asking them if you could add a special meal request or if you could request a window or aisle seat. If they have your reservation and everything is OK then neither should be a problem. Also ask them to verify that all segments of your ticket are confirmed. Some scammers will place your reservation "on request" for your return home trip.
These are just a few of the steps you can take to avoid being scammed. Please do be aware that the vast majority of people selling airline tickets are honest and will not take your money and run. It is the bad seeds that often get all the press coverage.